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the art of good teaching

by Carl Brewer last modified 2011-11-07 17:12

Or putting the shoe on the other foot.

I was going to write about SSS round 2, which went pretty well (ok, it was great!) but that can wait a bit.  You can see all the videos and results over at the SSS website if you want.

I want to write briefly about learning, learning new, alien skills and the art of excellent teaching.

I'm lucky enough (wellll ... pretty lucky, wellll ... extrordinarily lucky ...) to be being exposed to a new skillset by a teacher/coach with some of the best teaching skills I've ever experienced.  Learning new skills is hard, especially in an environment where you're way outside your comfort zone. 

In a really fortuitous twist to this tale, at the same time as I am being taught new skills, I am in parallel, teaching new skills to the teacher who's teaching me (a swapsie, you might say).  I am teaching whitewater kayaking and basic track cycling, I am being taught .. wait for it ... Ceroc modern jive (I think that's what it is anyway? All I know is I keep tripping over!).  Yes, dancing.  Me .. Dancing .. You want to push my comfort zone, that is IT!  I can fly a plane, SCUBA dive to 55m on mixed gasses, play violent contact sports, climb rocks and ice, race sprints, paddle down rapids, kill spiders and ward off snakes .. you name it, no worries, but dance?  Ohhh ...  I'm game enough to admit to being petrified of dancing.

This is a very interesting position to be in, when teaching skills a teacher needs to know when to back off, say nothing, let the student experiment and make (harmless) mistakes, and when to intercept and cut off any frustration or danger with the right cues.  Timing of this is critical or the student either doesn't get the chance to learn (over teaching is waayyyyy too common, just SHUT UP, STEP BACK AND LET ME WORK THIS OUT FOR MYSELF!) or gets hurt and/or frustrated to the point that they can't learn (spit the dummy time or get injured!).   

The teacher must have the absolute trust of their student that they are looking after them.  I'm putting my student into dangerous situations in whitewater rapids and on steep banked velodromes. I'm being put into a social context that I am deeply unfamiliar with as well (who wants to look like a dickhead in front of your partner's peers?).  Trust is vital.  Having a teacher or coach that you trust gives you the backing to be able to push you limits.

I also think it's important that the teacher not pretend that a new skill is easy - track stands are not easy, eskimo rolls are not easy, swan drops are not easy (really! I threw that in because I tried to learn that last night and last week and it's tricky!), power cleans and proper squats are not easy.  None of these things are natural, they need to be learned and pretending that they're easy harms the trust relationship between a teacher/coach and their students. They're worthwhile to learn and will take time and effort and will be rewarding when learned.  They are not easy to learn.

To cut a long story short, I think it's a great experience to be taught something new and totally alien and I'm not just (slowly!) learning how not to bowl over dance partners, but more importantly, I'm learning a lot more about how to teach and coach, by being a total novice student all over again in the hands of a brilliant teacher.

Oh, I won B grade on Sunday at round 2, undefeated (although Ian McGinley and I were very very close) and rode a PB flying 200, I'm only a 10th off breaking into 12 seconds at Blackburn.  I think it was world Vegan day on Sunday, I had a couple of steaks to celebrate.




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